Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thank You

Thanks very much to the twenty-five people who have so far answered my questionnaire - about life's purpose. As I reflected on the questions and the answers people gave, however, it struck me that I hadn't been as clear as I might have been about my meaning. This was confirmed recently in Northampton when Lee and Nicola revealed that they weren't sure how to answer. Their uncertainty concerned the question of whether they were supposed to consider the 'objective' purpose of life, according to some consideration of a grand design (or lack thereof); or whether they were supposed to consider the question of their personal, subjective purpose, whether or not this was reflected in the Universe in-itself.

To answer that life has no purpose is all well and good if one thinks objectively - if one supposes that there is no God, that life, the universe and everything in it, is the consequence of random chance; that life, on this planet at least, assumed the shape it did according to an unguided process of rigorous selection and advancement of forms of life most capable of surviving an essentially hostile environment. But if one thinks subjectively, how is the objective non-existence of purpose relevant to our lives; to the needs we face, as individuals, to find direction and aim? Subjective purpose: having wants, having plans, hoping and if possible striving to make life better for oneself and one's environment. These are all normal features of normal humanity. This means that to those feeling these emotions life does have purpose, whatever be the nature of any attendant cogitations that are, or are not, experiencd about the bigger picture.

I'm not denying that, subjectively, people's lives can be pointless and purposeless, especially in the West, and at least in their own perception. But that is so, if it is so, for personal reasons that have little to do with the status of life in general. In addition, many who deny life's deeper telos, can still, very happily - or so it appears - find purpose in their lives, that sense of a direction that can generate a sense of meaning, even in the midst of the void.

So anyway, it struck me that my whole slew of questions could be construed as ambiguous. Yet, then I reflected - does this matter? Perhaps for some people objective and subjective purpose are identical. In any case, people answered according to how they interpreted the question. How they interpreted it, at least to them, is intriguing and revealing in-itself. A point may be, however: would they have chosen differently if I had spelt it out that they had to think about things only subjectively and personally or only objectively and impersonally?

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